The Beauty Myth: How Images Of Beauty Are Used Against Women
- Publication Date:
- 03 January 1998
- Social Groups
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A fascinating and thought-provoking book. I thoroughly recommend it to all; it was well-written and accessible to everyone, regardless of whether you consider yourself a feminist I believe you would still really gain something from reading it.
<i>The Beauty Myth</i> by Naomi Wolf is mind-blowing...she discusses so many concepts that I had never consciously thought about or dissected, but which make so much (scary) sense. Everybody should read this book. Wolf discusses the rise of the beauty myth brought on by the Industrial Revolution, as class of women with money and time on their hands appeared and society needed a way of controlling them and diverting their energies, this was taken up by beauty and religion. After the World Wars, when religion had ebbed in social importance and women were entering the workplace and becoming self-reliant, the beauty myth really gained its momentum as a way of keeping those women in line. The unattainable quest for "beauty" ensures that women use up all of their energy on an ever-elusive goal as defined by the ever-changing landscape of fashion magazines, movies, advertisements, etc. It is also a billion dollar industry, basically tricking women into wasting their money on useless products that are used to stave off the "guilt" women feel about aging and not looking "perfect." The beauty myth is that there <i>is</i> some sort of objective, impartial and immutable standard by which a woman can be called "beautiful," when of course this changes all the time and is totally arbitrary. The beauty myth traps both women and men, who are likewise bullied and brainwashed into accepting the myth and then find themselves unable to relate to, comfort or even compliment women who are obsessed with their appearance...Her chapter on anorexia, which begins with a description of the disease and how we would react to it if it affected young men and not women, is powerful, frightening and insightful. <i>"Female fat is not in itself unhealthy. But female fat is the subject of public passion, and women feel guilty about female fat, because we implicitly recognize that under the myth, women's bodies are not our own but society's, and that thinness is not a private aesthetic, but a hunger a social concession exacted by the community. A cultural fixation on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty but an obsession about female obedience. Women's dieting has become ... a never-ending passion-play given international coverage out of all proportion to the health risks associated with obesity, and using emotive language that does not figure even in discussions of alcohol or tobacco abuse. The nations seize with compulsive attention on this melodrama because women and men understand that it is not about cholesterol or heart rate or disruption of a line of tailoring, but about how much social freedom women are going to get away with or concede." </i> (p. 187)
The Beauty Myth is a good intro to women's studies and how women are trapped by conflicting expectations of their gender. Naomi Wolf argues that post-second wave feminism (the 1970s), women were put under greater pressure by gender expectations - because we still have to be beautiful and defer to men and have families as before, but now a career and independence and strength are expected too. We have built a society in which women are told to be both confident and submissive.Wolf discusses our unattainably narrow standard of "beauty," which shames women into thinking that they're deficient and barely able, out of pity, to creep about in society. There are images of physical violence and self-loathing in advertisements, mainstream media, and pornography - created by men, internalized by women. One of the best statements that Wolf makes is "A misogynist culture has succeeded in making women hate what misogynists hate."Wolf is careful to stress, both in the introduction and conclusion, that this book is not "anti-beauty." Women ought to be free to wear lipstick or overalls or both, without people "reading" their appearances as anything. But we live in an overwhelmingly visual society, with all of these connotations, expectations, and biases firmly in place already. The Beauty Myth raises our awareness of the absolutely unhealthy, hateful ways in which women are put down, and of the fabricated gender expectations that our society wrongly fosters.
An interesting and insightful look at the way modern society uses beauty ideals to undermine women socially and psychologically, in order to keep its politics and economy in order. The book covers various aspects of this repression, from sex and work, to surgery and dieting. It occasionally veers into slightly OTT territory near the beginning, but by the final section, 'Beyond the Beauty Myth' the reader is fully on the side of the achievable vision Wolf presents of a united womanhood in which competition and striving for acceptance via beauty is replaced with sisterhood, freedom and confident sexuality. Thought-provoking and very relevant in today's size 0-obsessed culture.
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